RJW: Let’s get the ball rolling here. Call it the ‘50 Shades of Grey’ affect, but I think the prudish boundaries of mainstream Hollywood are once again being rumbled. It seems acceptable today to consider pornography as an important cultural form. A cautionary biographical tale of Linda Lovelace is on the horizon and Sasha Grey’s transition from adult starlet to hipster artiste is evidence that not everyone is screwed literally and metaphorically by working in the Adult Industry. Then we have ‘The Canyons’, due for release next year. It is a intriguing looking movie directed by the legendary Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis, starring everyone’s favourite ginger fuck-up Lindsay Lohan, and James Deen, a pornstar at the peak of his powers. Given that Lohan’s post-Mean Girls career has been a trainwreck it seems odd that this could potentially be a turning point for her, or it could send her back to rehab. I dunno, the film looks like a massive gamble for all involved, it could turn out to be a cult classic, or it could get ridiculed. There is even the far-fetched possibility that the unthinkable happens and it somehow becomes a box office smash.
Ian: Sasha Grey’s decision to move away from porn and into the ‘mainstream’ undoubtedly resulted in a multitude of lonely boners the world over. Now James Deen, Grey’s male equivalent in porno-popularity, has made the same transition with a starring role in The Canyons, a movie that looks like a Grindhouse inspired cash-in without the good sense to be totally senseless. This naturally begs the question: what will be the implications for the industries, Hollywood, and porn, respectively.
Of course this isn’t the first time a porn star has appeared in a regular film. I’m no expert, and I can’t be arsed researching it, but I saw Zombie Strippers, with Jenna Jameson (okay, bad example), and I know Ron Jeremy has been in a few movies. The difference now is that Sasha Grey and James Deen both look like movie stars and it’s not such a stretch to believe that, given the right opportunities, they could go to the top of the A-list. RJW suggested that this indicates a shift in the zeitgeist, as porn becomes not only more widespread and accessible, but also more culturally acceptable. I think I disagree, though.
It is the cynic in me, but I see this as nothing more than an extension of the Paris Hilton / Kim Kardashian effect. In the absence of talent, notoriety will do, and the moguls in Hollywood know this as well as anyone. Suck dick on tape, get a TV show. Be a professional dick sucker for a few years, get a movie deal. I don’t think the mainstream is any more accepting of porn now than it ever has been. Porn is just harder to ignore now. Grey and Deen get themselves cast in movies because they are pretty enough to have widespread appeal, and enough of a reputation for being a bad girl/boy to boost the ratings of anything they are involved with. Far from being exploited for their reputations, both stars appear to not only be well-rounded individuals, but intelligent and savvy enough to completely reverse the balance of power and actually exploit Hollywood’s willingness to forgive past sins in the name of profit. The public has a short and selective memory when it comes to pretty faces, and for those who have never been confronted by video of Sasha Grey licking a toilet, it will not be hard to accept her as the cute girl with the shady past.
Ultimately I think the only party who will not come out ahead will be Hollywood. The stars will make big bucks, increase their public profiles, and possibly gain acceptance from a fickle and hypocritical public. The porn industry will not only gain viewers in all of the folks who are just discovering stars like James Deen, but will probably see a boom in new, young talent who may not have considered porn until pioneers like Sasha Grey proved it to be a viable route into mainstream movies. Indeed, I often wonder just how many chess moves ahead Sasha has been this whole time. Maybe porn is the new waitressing for wannabe actresses. It sure as shit pays better. If she really had it all figured out the way it seems she did, it only makes me like her even more (if that is possible).
Maybe these new stars will prove to be excellent actors and go on to have prosperous careers in mainstream movies. Or maybe not. I don’t think the Hollywood executives give a shit either way. James Deen has a pretty face and a big dick and a modicum of notoriety because of his chosen profession, but let’s not forget that he took his stage name from a Hollywood legend. He is a pop culture reference playing at being a movie star because controversy sells. Kim Kardashian hustled her fifteen minutes out of a boring sex tape. The sex Sasha Grey and James Deen had on camera was much more professional, and much more interesting, so maybe their careers will follow suit. As far as I’m concerned, though, if they ever want to be culturally relevant, they will have to offer more than just a risqué resume. As they say: sex sells, but who’s buying?
RJW: So, potentially this is a new trend in Hollywood, where studios look for an element of danger and excitement? In perhaps the tradition of backing maverick talents like Dennis Hopper and relatively recently Vincent Gallo? Just as Hollywood has fallen for this idea that British Actors are best suited to play American Superhero’s – Andrew Garfield as Spiderman, Christian Bale as Batman, and Henry Cavill as Superman; execs are warming to the idea that pornstars, attractive ones at that, can add a gritty edge to proceedings and sell a movie to an increasingly fickle audience.
I like your idea that there is a distinct possibility Grey saw her career in pornography as a platform that might other doors in the Entertainment Industry, especially since she was willing to degrade herself to get to that point. This almost makes her porn career a piece of performance art. Her route to Hollywood’s golden brick road is however a rickety rope bridge, and I think many will likely fall if they attempt to replicate her trajectory.
Ian: Absolutely dude. I wrote way too much the first time, and I want to give everyone else a chance, but you make a good goddamn point. Sasha Grey’s success is due mostly to the fact that she did it righteously. I believe she had a game plan and she has a good head on her shoulders, but that chick also likes to fuck. I think if up and comers try to use her model for success they will be setting themselves up for a crash and burn story way worse than the generic shame of an unsuccessful foray into porn. It’s hard enough to find out your dreams will never come true, without getting (literally) ass fucked for a few years, and then finding out…
BJS: Yup, I’m kinda in agreement with this uncomfortable movement of mainstream porno-ness to everyday lifestyle genres. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a dirty stick flick was when I was around 14 and I had a 56k modem. Me and a dude I grew up with had to reload the thing every few second for a few more moments of “what you need”. Now with Instagram I am following Kim Kardashian, who, regardless of any other accomplishments, is still a sex tape siren and that cheech posts a picture of her fluffy white dog and gets 20,000 comments in 2 minutes. I don’t know how I feel about all this. I don’t know if I want to be closer to the people (men also) I watch for sexual advance, you know; more in the loop, or if I want to be further away from it. Does that make me sound like a wanker? A misogynist maybe. I know, I have been called it many times, but aren’t we big enough to say that the porn trade is a different medium to mainstream? Or am I the kind of mind that causes these kind of problems? Am I a British tabloid? Sex is sweet and it should sell, it should have a market – but I don’t want to sleep with the MUA of the porn scene, let alone see photos of her children. Jesse Jane and Gio are total whores on this social media shit and I feel odd that I’m so rounded up on it all. I scroll through pages of Red Tube thinking “Well, none of this can make me cum… Not now, not in this mood.” And I’m thinking if this trend to make moguls from our stick flick sirens is what we need as the masturbating public. Sometimes you get lucky and see 2 collage co-eds in love banging each other in a hotel room in some back alley in soviet Russia. There is tenderness there. Not fabricated. I guess (and I have had a few beers… well, a FEW beers) what I’m trying to say is; the scene has come a long way from robbing plumbers vans for DVDA to seeing Jesse Jane’s kids ride merry-go-rounds in Vegas or seeing Janine Lindermulder steal Sandra Bullocks husband and spend some time in the nick. I feel like we are getting closer to something that means something, but further away from something that shouldn’t mean anything. Then again, maybe I just need a long wank and to sleep this booze off.
RJW: Aren’t people now more fascinated about Kardashian’s lifestyle thanks to her Reality Show success? It’s surely an aspirational thing that creates the current allure. Heterosexual men want a full figured attractive chick on their arm, and women want the glamour, to actually be a Kardashian sister. I think Kardashian has transcended the Ray-J sex tape; however I will concede that recent evidence suggests that sex tapes are still currency when it comes to injecting some life into a flat-lining career in entertainment, see Hulk Hogan.
I think BJS raises some interesting point when it comes to the viewing experience, and the voyeuristic nature of Amateur pornography in comparison to professional shoots starring Adult Entertainment personalities that in their own right have become ‘famous’, or least publically known. This current trend I think explains why the Porn Industry has suffered so badly financially since the advent of various Tube sites where disgruntled lovers have leaked private videos and horny couples have showcased their kinkiness. The stars in this case are nameless ordinary people. The Big Porn Production Companies have found that not only are their audience not paying for the professionally shot product, but they actually aren’t getting turned on by it, hence the move towards more ‘reality’ based shoots, with less emphasis on cheesy dialogue and a deliberate reaching out to the mainstream.
Social Networks such as Twitter and Instagram, like in any other Entertainment Industry, has knocked the walls down and allowed people to interact with, and indeed given an insight into the lives of the people they see on their computer screens. For example to research this I looked at the respective Twitter Pages of Grey and Deen, and looked through Deen’s blog, and in the latter’s case, the process of peeling back the curtains and looking at the behind the scenes stuff makes the industry of arousal and X-rated excitement seem quite mundane, and passionless.
WG: I think I’m coming into this with a very different perspective. I’m not a big porn guy. Not a consumer on the same level as some of us in this conversation. That being said, I recognize the infiltration (albeit slight) of the porn culture into the pop culture.
Let me first start off by saying that actually having a sex tape is so 2008. Get it together. Hulk is just embarrassing himself at this point.
We are constantly blurring lines in our culture, and this is no different. However in America we’re still very distant about our sex lives. It’s disappointing how uptight we are about sex (legal crackdowns on sex shops, banning of gay marriage, ‘slut shaming’ etc.) yet we produce more porn than anyone else in the world. Lindsay Lohan is a sex object, lets just be clear about that. James Deen, whom I’d never heard of until just now, is a porn star. No one will have any objections to this film and I think that’s the point. In some movie no one will ever see, it’s totally ok. But when Sasha Gray starts reading to their kids… stop the fucking presses, we’re in CRISIS MODE. Really, the saddest thing to me is that Bret Easton Ellis wrote this garbage. The heart just breaks.
The 21st century ticket to your 15 minutes of fame seems to be either a sex tape or some other sort of sexual objectification. Sure, Hilton and Kardashian rocketed to infamy but when is the last time you saw Paris Hilton anywhere? I believe this too shall pass. It will become another tired old cliché and we will find another way to entertain ourselves. I think our voyeuristic, misogynistic culture can’t deal with seeing a beautiful woman and not immediately want to fuck her brains out and jizz all over her face. It’s a really unstable thing. It’s why Scarlett Johansson’s phone was hacked; it’s why you’ve got paparazzi going to Sniper like lengths to snap a shot of Kate Middleton’s modest breasts. Hell, it’s why there’s Sarah Palin themed porn out there. Jesus. We’ve got some deep-seeded issues we’ve got to work through.
I think everyone who’s so deeply entrenched and invested in this whole porn game just needs to go get laid.
RJW: It’s interesting you mention ‘consumer’, because sex quite literally sells products and has done for some time. I can think of two examples off the top of my head, ads for Diet Coke and the on-going misogynistic Lynx campaign.
Though worldwide, even in traditionally repressed countries, we’re becoming kinkier, and open to perversion and the pornographic. I think this News Story from China reflects that – http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/10/18/doctors-remove-dildo-from-chinese-mans-intestines/.
Willis, when you say “I think our voyeuristic, misogynistic culture can’t deal with seeing a beautiful woman and not immediately want to fuck her brains out and jizz all over her face. It’s a really unstable thing.” I think you raise a more pressing societal concern, particularly to males that have been exposed to online hardcore pornography from an early age, in that they will like have unrealistic expectations and skewed views on sex as they get older, and this could lead to a variety of problems.
WG: Absolutely. I’m all for everyone getting their rocks off, but I would suggest they do it with each other and not the impending agony of carpal tunnel. Maybe watching hairless blondes get fisted by garbagemen and electricians in brilliant Technicolor isn’t the best way to start one’s sexual experience…